Dave Tindall reflects on day three of the Open Championship where there's a trio of players leading at the top of the board.
I put on Twitter last night that the top five on the 36-hole leaderboard hadn’t played in either the Scottish or Irish Opens, thus appearing to cock a snoop that to succeed this week you need to have honed your links skills.
It was met by a series of replies to hold my horses because, after all, we were only halfway through the tournament. I didn’t mind those voices of reason as it can be counter-productive to draw conclusions too early. However, with just 18 to play now, I’ll offer the update that just one of the top five played in either the Scottish or Irish.
That was Kevin Chappell and he missed the cut at Gullane. None of the three leaders came over to the UK to play a competitive links event while nine of the top 12 were absent from the starting line-ups at Ballyliffin and Gullane. It’s also worth noting that the top four on the leaderboard and eight of the top 12 are Americans.
Three of them, Jordan Spieth, Tiger Woods and Zach Johnson, are past Open winners. Why are U.S. golfers so good at playing links golf, especially when the vast majority choose to stay at home and play parkland courses before flying to the Open? I wish I had an answer! I don’t.
All we can do is note the trends and not get sniffy that they appear not to have put the work in to succeed at this style of golf.
All set up for another Carnoustie charge
It’s fairly well-known that Paul Lawrie came from 10 shots back to win the 1999 Open at Carnoustie after beating Jean Van de Velde and Justin Leonard in a play-off. But I wasn’t aware until checking the history books/wiki that Padraig Harrington started Sunday six shots behind Sergio before winning at Carnoustie in 2007 in extra-time.
Even Tom Watson was three off the lead before winning a play-off in 1975 so I’m calling that a trend. Summing it all up, the last three Opens at Carnoustie have all gone to a play-off and been won by someone starting the final round at least three shots of the pace.
We all love a Sunday charge and the windy weather forecast (25mph plus) helps fuel the idea that something like a 67 or 68 could be worth its weight in gold to a player starting five or so back.
The top 19 players are covered by just five shots. None of them should be ruled out.
Spieth the major man
Defending champion and 54 hole co-leader Jordan Spieth is good at majors isn’t he.
Since Rory McIlroy hinted at a new era of dominance by winning the final two of 2014, it’s been the American not the Northern Irishman who has emerged as the specialist.
In the last 14 majors, Spieth has won three, finished second twice, was just one shot out of the three-way play-off at the 2015 Open and produced a ridiculous late burst to grab solo third at this year’s Masters.
If you want to make a direct comparison and log their tally of top three finishes in the majors since the end of 2014 it’s Spieth 6 McIlroy 0. Rory is still in the hunt here but on those numbers Spieth should be a shorter price than Rory in every major he plays. Padraig Harrington won back-to-back Opens at Carnoustie and Royal Birkdale in 2007/2008 and now Spieth has the chance to pull off the same trick, albeit in reverse order.
He’s remarkable. In an era of so-called parity, Spieth is now favourite to win his fourth major in just 15 attempts since the start of 2015.
Stats so far…
With every stat you’d ever need being available on a weekly basis on the PGA Tour, it’s somewhat frustrating that in the majors we have to pretend it’s the 1990s and rely on rather basic numbers.
Anyway, at least the official Open site has some stats to tuck into and here’s the top five so far in the main ones. Fairways hit: 1 Chez Reavie, T2 Markus Kinhult, Tiger Woods, T4 Bernhard Langer, Erik Van Rooyen. Greens In Regulation: T1 Tommy Fleetwood, Louis Oosthuizen, T3 Phil Mickelson, Kyle Stanley, Danny Willett. Average Putts Per Round: 1 Kevin Kisner, T2 Xander Schauffele, Julian Suri, T4 Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar. One Putts: T1 Pat Perez, Julian Suri, T3 Rickie Fowler, Kevin Kisner, 5 Marc Leishman. Scrambles: 1 Kevin Kisner, T2 Paul Dunne, Matt Kuchar, Shaun Norris, 5 Kiradech Aphibarnrat. Most Birdies: 1 Francesco Molinari, T2 Patrick Cantlay, Tony Finau, Sam Locke, 5 Sean Crocker.
Some observations. Tiger’s strategy of hitting mostly irons off the tee has worked very well. He’s found the short grass and gone from there and not had to put too much pressure on his often suspect driving. Second, Kisner’s short game is red-hot.
Can he keep relying on it? Padraig Harrington finished 1st for Scrambling in 2007 and that ability to keep getting up and down could be vital on Sunday when lots of greens are likely to be missed when the winds blow.
Gap no hurdle for Noren
Alex Noren was the pre-tournament tip of Ben Coley and I’m on the Swede too. So far, he’s been like a Grand National runner taking his time - not getting many mentions in the first part of the race but always handy enough to keep the leaders in sight.
Today, Noren started to position himself nicely for the final few fences by playing his first 17 holes in five-under to cruise into contention but then stumbled horribly. The TV footage showed him playing his third shot after finding the Barry Burn and then his approach sailed Jean Van de Velde-style into the grandstand.
I feared out of bounds and a scorecard wrecker but he was given a drop and bravely got up and down for bogey. Noren has merely clipped a fence and lost a few yards. He’s still in this race. The 30/1 can still be landed. What gives us even greater hope is that he’s won his last three events from seven, six and seven shots back respectively after round three.
He’s only four back going into the last day at Carnoustie. We’re on a stayer that knows exactly how to get his head in front on the line.